Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Fire chief checks out

Mixed feelings' about move

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 26/01) - Fire Chief Neville Wheaton packed up his family and headed south last week. Soon he begins work as the fire chief in Corner Brook, Nfld.

Wheaton was Iqaluit's top firefighter for five years. No replacement has been found, although Wheaton has offered to help with the hiring. For now, station captain Cory Chegwyn will handle the chief's duties.

"I went a week trying to figure out whether I wanted to go," he said, adding that his wife and two children have all enjoyed living in the North.

"But taking everything into consideration, the family and the kids in school, and most of the kids' family and cousins are in Eastern Canada ... that whole extended family thing was part of it.

"We're leaving with some regret, some mixed feelings and a lot of friends."

"It's upsetting, for sure," said full-time firefighter Debbie McGean, who came to Iqaluit three years ago. "He's a very good boss and an excellent fire chief."

McGean, who worked with Wheaton in Nova Scotia before following him to Iqaluit, said it will be difficult to replace Wheaton. "It's like you're losing a part of your family. He's done tremendous things over the years," she said.

Among those things was organizing a system of street names, which is close to being realized. The street names are a necessary precursor to a 911 system, another Wheaton pet project.

"He's done an awful lot for us," said McGean. "For as long as I've been here we've worked our butts off for him. This man worked very, very hard the time he was here. He was constantly on call. This is going to be a significant morale de-energizer."

Wheaton was originally coaxed into firefighting by an unrelenting roommate in Bedford, N.S.

"He kept saying, 'Why don't you come down and join?' and he kept it up," said Wheaton. "To keep him quiet I said I would come down. I realized I really enjoyed it."

He stuck with firefighting, he said, because he feels he is giving back to the community.

"You're out there doing something that you feel is worthwhile," he said. "I know it's corny, but that's part of it, and by doing it you feel a bit better about yourself."

The Iqaluit fire department employs eight full-time firefighters and 35 volunteers. They respond to about 1,400 calls a year, including medical calls, which comprise about 70 per cent of the workload.

The Corner Brook force employs 45 full-time firefighters and answers about 300 fire calls annually.

Wheaton has been in his share of sticky situations, including one instance in which he crushed his hand and lost his little finger.

"You get to see a lot of things that the human constitution is not designed to see," he said. "You don't get used to it, nor do you want to. It's part of what keeps you human."